Piano District name stems back to neighborhood’s roots

The Estey Piano & Organ Company, now known as the Clocktower Building (located on Bruckner Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue), was one of the biggest piano manufacturers of its time and is the oldest former piano factory in the Bronx.
Community News Group / Steven Goodstein

A large residential project slated for the south Bronx has a lot of history behind its name.

The Piano District, a planned two 25-story luxury residential tower complex which will be built on the Mott Haven waterfront and include ground floor retail, recalls an era when piano manufacturers called the area its home.

The neighborhood of Mott Haven was originally purchased by iron foundry owner Jordan Lawrence Mott, the son of alderman and acting mayor of NYC Jacob Mott in 1849 from Gouverneur Morris, Jr., the son of a Founding Father and statesman, Gouverneur Morris I.

During the middle of the 19th century, immigrants, mostly of German descent, migrated to the neighborhood and brought their crafts, skills and trades with them, transforming it into a center of industry.

Many immigrants opened their own businesses in the area.

It was during this time that piano manufacturing became very prominent in the neighborhood, particularly in the 1880s.

By the early 1900s, with piano manufacturing companies such as the Estey Piano & Organ Company, located in the present day Clocktower Building, Beethoven Pianos, Kroeger Pianos and the Doll Piano Factory, among other manufacturers, the area of Mott Haven and Port Morris became known as the ‘Piano Capital of the United States’, according to Bronx Historical Society historian Lloyd Ultan.

“These piano manufacturers continued to flourish until the 1910s and 1920s. When Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph caught on in the United States (after it was invented in the late 1870s), piano purchases began to decline,” said Ultan. “As a result, many manufacturers went out of business and eventually closed their doors or began to focus in other fields of manufacturing.”

The Estey Piano & Organ Company closed in the 1970s after being one of the biggest piano manufacturers of its time and the oldest piano factory in the Bronx after surviving for nearly a century. In the 1990s, artists began moving into the building now known as the Clocktower Building, which offers residential lofts.

The new Piano District, will begin construction sometime in 2016 on two Bronx Kill waterfront sites, 2401 Third Avenue and 101 Lincoln Avenue.

The Chetrit Group and Somerset Partners purchased the sites for $58 million and plans to build on the area’s historic past, returning the area back to its former legacy of being the capital of the United States by incorporating cutting edge art and timely fashion within the project.

Reach Reporter Steven Goodstein at (718) 260-4599. E-mail him at sgoodstein@cnglocal.com.

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